Freedom of Speech (QUIZ Answers)

It is one of America’s most treasured ideals. While we all talk about it, how well do you really understand it? Take the First Amendment quiz and find out.

1. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects free speech by:

The correct answer is (a) restricting Congress’ ability to pass laws that unreasonably restrict free speech.

When we say that all Americans are guaranteed the right to free speech, what we really mean is that the First Amendment stops Congress from passing laws that would unreasonably restrict free speech. The Fourteenth Amendment applied the same prohibition to state governments. The First Amendment only prevents state and federal governments’ attempts to limit speech; words exchanged among your friends, family, and neighbors are not covered by the First Amendment. As you will see, our right to free speech is not absolute and therefore (allowing individuals to say what they want, when they want) B isn’t correct.


2. So you just can’t stand the fact that Congress failed to increase funding for child care; the First Amendment gives you the right to protest any time, place and way that you want.

The correct answer is (b) False.

Our right to free speech is not absolute. Governments may limit the “time, place and manner” we speak. Governments can require us to get a permit to protest and can restrict our protests to certain times or locations.


3. Who gets to decide what speech is protected by the First Amendment?

The correct answer is (b) The Supreme Court.

Again, our right to free speech is not absolute. Ultimately, it is left to the United States Supreme Court to determine which speech government can limit and which speech it must tolerate. New issues arise all the time. For instance, an emerging issue is whether state officials can bar prisoners from putting up personally sympathetic Web sites. This case could wind up in the Supreme Court one day.


4. My right to free speech allows me to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater.

The correct answer is (b) False.

Some types of speech are not protected at all. In a series of cases dating back to the turn of the century, the Supreme Court made clear that speech directed at producing immediate lawless action, in this case, creating a dangerous, screaming stampede for the theater doors, just isn’t worthy of protection. Sorry folks. Better just sit back and enjoy the show.


5. The First Amendment allows me to wear a jacket with the slogan “F**k the Draft” emblazoned upon it.

The correct answer is (a) True.

While “fighting words” — those personally nasty comments that likely would turn even the most mild-mannered among us into modern-day John Waynes — are not constitutionally protected, a “F**k the Draft” jacket is a different story. In 1971, in a case called Cohen v. California, the Supreme Court ruled that the wearer of this “colorful” garment could not be punished by the state. The message, while provocative, was not directed at a particular individual and was not, therefore, considered “fighting words.”


6. Freedom of speech means that I can protest an abortion clinic and tell the women I see entering the clinic that they are making a mistake and should consider other options.

The correct answer is (b) Not necessarily.

This is one of those tricky areas of free speech. In June 2000, in Hill vs. Colorado, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Colorado law prohibiting individuals, within 100 feet of a health­care facility, from approaching others to protest their actions or to counsel them. The Supreme Court’s decision hinged on many factors, including the fact that the law did not single out abortion providers for special protection, but instead treated all health-care facilities the same. In this emotionally charged area, you should check with a lawyer, a legal clinic or the local branch of the ACLU before acting.


7. May I legally burn the American flag?

The correct answer is (a) Yes.

The First Amendment does indeed protect our rights to send “old glory” up in flames. According to the Supreme Court, burning the flag, unlike yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater, is not likely to incite immediate lawless action. Therefore, it is a perfectly protected activity. Some legislators, unhappy with the Court’s 1990 ruling, have been trying for years to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Court’s decision and outlaw the burning of the flag.